The New Mother Teresa Tapes Show Her Legacy

SYLVANIA, Ohio — For most of the 20-plus years Father Angelo Scolozzi worked with Mother Teresa of Calcutta, he made it a point to see that a tape recorder was running while the tiny Albanian nun was talking with small groups of priests or nuns.

Now his low-tech effort, which preserved a side of the Missionaries of Charity foundress rarely heard by the public, has been used to produce a new audio series that shares her teachings with a larger audience.

Lou Tartaglia, an author, speaker and retired psychiatrist from Sylvania, Ohio, who narrates the series, said it will give people who really want to know what Mother Teresa taught a chance to sit at her feet and listen to her teach.

“Thirsting for God: The Spiritual Lessons of Mother Teresa,” was produced by Nightingale-Conant Corp., a Chicago-based publisher of personal and spiritual development audio programs. Although the project was somewhat outside the company's normal product parameters, Dan Strutzel, director of new product development, said the firm agreed to take it on at the urging of Tartaglia, who had learned of the existence of the tapes through his work with Father Angelo and Mother Teresa.

The series is being presented by the Universal Fraternity of the Word, Third Order of the Missionaries of Charity, a lay association Father Angelo helped Mother Teresa start. Seventy-five percent of the proceeds from its sale will go toward developing a center to preserve Mother Teresa's manuscripts, letters and other memorabilia.

Tartaglia, who also wrote the script outline for the audio series, said he broached the idea with Nightingale-Conant in part because he knew they had the resources to draw the best material out of Father Angelo's 120 tapes.

It turned out to be a daunting challenge.

Initially, Strutzel recalled, he wasn't sure the tapes would yield any usable material. Then, near the end of a three-day listening session, the group working on the project happened on 12 tapes that seemed perfect for the series.

“It was almost like the fourth quarter in a football game,” Strutzel said. “There was no light, then a guy throws a ‘Hail Mary’ pass for the touchdown. I really felt, and Father and Lou feel, that Mother had her hand in this from afar and wanted it to be out there.”

Tartaglia said culling quality material from the tapes was difficult because Mother Teresa said the same things again and again, never deviating from her themes. The challenge thus was to find those tapes that best stated her teachings.

“I've listened to tapes from the 1970s and read her diary excerpts from the 1940s. She's so consistent; she never changed a bit. Anything she said, she said over and over again. One of the nicest things she said was, ‘Holiness is not the privilege of the few, but the duty of the many.’ It really comes home to you when you listen to her speak.”

Words From the Heart

Tartaglia said the tapes convey the passion and love of the woman best known for her care of the poor. It was in them, she said, that she saw Christ “in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

“There's this incredible emotion that you feel when you listen to her voice because she's so warm,” Tartaglia said. “She's not an intellectual. She's not lecturing. She's talking from her heart to yours.”

To make the tapes into a series, Father Angelo's recordings of Mother Teresa speaking had to be stripped of background noises like clanking dishes. Her words, arranged around such themes as “Only All for Jesus,” “The Consolation of Suffering,” and “Something Beautiful for God,” were then interspersed with commentary from Father Angelo and Tartaglia, who identified ways to apply her principles to everyday life.

Strutzel thinks the tapes are being released at an important time in light of reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Mother's message is such a universal message that everyone can relate to, yet at the same time, she delivers a very countercultural message. … Very few people could have spoken about the things she spoke about — the right to life, the call to radical obedience and humility. Those are themes that don't necessarily sit well with our culture. They're not typically American, yet …[Mother Teresa] has so much respect out there. People are willing to hear her out. Very few people can speak with the authority she has and have people take her words to heart.”

Tartaglia said the theme of the series is that of being a contemplative in the world.

“Mother believed in actions, not words, results, not promises,” he said. “For her, becoming a contemplative in action is a spiritual principle that will give you the freedom to love others fully. It will help you overcome those periods in your life that are frustrating.”

Adopting the Pope

One of Tartaglia's favorite vignettes from the series involves a meeting during the 1970s between Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Sister Nirmala, who eventually became her successor, and Father Angelo.

“Mother says to the Pope as he is getting ready to leave, ‘By the way, we've started a new thing where each of the nuns has adopted a priest to pray for during the adoration.’ The Pope says, ‘Well, I'm a priest, too. Would somebody adopt me?’ She turns to Sister Nirmala and says, ‘Would you adopt him, please?’”

Strutzel, who is Catholic, said the project was especially significant to him because of the role his faith has played in his life.

Usually, he said, he doesn't see a project all the way through to final production. “But this one, I did because I felt so personally connected to it.”

Judy Roberts writes from Millbury, Ohio.